Showing posts from 2013

Review of Monsanto vs The World: Monsanto, GMOs and Our Genetically Modified Future, by Jason Louv

Monsanto vs The World: Monsanto, GMOs and Our Genetically Modified Future, by Jason Louv. Pub. Ultracuture, , Book mini site: 11,000+ words, $3.02 ebook, $4.49 paperback This is a cross between a book review and some propaganda for the resistance to Monsanto, which this book is a part of. As such, I shall treat the book as a set of resources for information and action. It opens with a thorough breakdown of the appallingly corrupt arrangement that President Obama signed into law in March 2013, which can enable the planting of GM crops even against judicial rulings. Then we are introduced to Monsanto, their history of producing weedkillers and the infamous defoliant weapon Agent Orange. The death statistics, both Vietnamese and American from the latter make grisly reading. Louv mentions the generous campaign donations Monsanto made to a variety of political campaigns. Louv then introduces genetic

Review of a pointless film

The Wicker Tree I've just seen a film so crap my companion and I just ended up laughing at it. So I thought it was worth reviewing on that basis. And to warn off any fans of the genuine article. The reason I got this film was because it's supposed to be a sequel to 'The Wicker Man'. I am of course referring to the original 1973 film, not the American remake, which I have vowed never to see, because it can only be a cheap and tawdry imitation of a truly great film. So I felt like I had to watch this, even though it was, apparently, widely rated as rubbish. And, make no mistake, the nay-sayers were right - it is a steaming pile of cack. The laird in this film runs a nuclear power station. He is descended from Lord Summerisle, but that's the nearest this film gets to having any Wicker Man DNA in it. His poorly-managed nuclear site has rendered the village sterile, and sacrifices are conducted to restore fertility. The stupid villagers, instead of lynching this

Review of The Eye With Which the Universe Beholds Itself, by Ian Sales. Book 2 of Sales's Apollo Quartet. In another parallel universe, the space programme kept going. Via the chance discovery of an alien artefact on Mars, mankind is given the key to interstellar travel. A colony is set up on an exo-planet named Earth Two. Elliott is a veteran spaceman, the only human ever to have gone to Mars and to have seen the alien disc in place. He is selected, via a labyrinth of government secrecy, to join a mission to Earth Two when the colony has a serious problem. We are still in the same world as the first book, Adrift in the Sea of Rains (see my review at ), and indeed still in the same time-frame. But a secret has been kept: only one man has ever seen the only known evidence of alien life. From the opening lines, Sales sets up the protagonist's driving motivations. He is leaving a

Kurt Schwitters in Britain

Exhibition at Tate Britain, till 12th May. I've always liked collages, the usage of ephemera and trash as elements of new compositions. Schwitters' is one of the names associated with this art from the beginning. So that was all I knew about this man's art. And there is more to it, much more, as this exhibition demonstrates. First, a few notes on the early collages. Corrugated cardboard that forms staircases, pitted wood becomes distant vague rooms, suggesting murky future places; so much is happening with w such humble materials. Tram tickets, newspaper scraps picked up in the street, removed from the context of the pavement, become tiny intimate windows. An eye gazes out of faded newsprint. Chocolate wrappers, numbers which have lost their meaning, disposable items; the mind is making sense of modern life's profligacy in terms of their form the dreams they trigger, so they become tickets

Review of Albion Dreaming: A popular history of LSD in Britain, by Andy Roberts

Like most bibliophiles, I have a massive pile of books to read, some of which richly deserve  reviewing. I might just be catching up... This review seemed historically appropriate, since the 70th anniversary of the first ever LSD trip happened just the other day. Albion Dreaming: A popular history of LSD in Britain, by Andy Roberts I met Andy Roberts at the Breaking Convention conference in 2011, where I was delivering a talk on psychedelics in magic. He thrust this book into my hands, and I'm glad he did. A number of worthwhile books have been written about the US experience of LSD; Roberts's goal for the book is to give a British perspective on the rise of acid. From the blurb: ''Albion Dreaming' traces the drug's complex history from its arrival in Britain during 1952 through its use in psychotherapy, the secret military experiments at Porton Down and the British hippie mov

Review of a novel, Harvest by Jim Crace

Harvest by Jim Crace. I got this book (from my local library, blessings be upon the remains of that fine service!) because the review promised a vivid depiction of life in a poor village on the cusp of the Enclosures. In the early modern era, fields which had been granted in common under ancient rights to graze were stolen by the wealthy to farm sheep, and this background runs under everything happening in this novel. This will no doubt sound familiar to the modern reader, but Harvest is not an overtly political tale. The protagonist Walter tells of the final seven days in the life of the village. Starting with a mushroom-intoxicated prank that goes wrong, and the arrival of three strangers who raise a rough dwelling and light a fire before dawn, thereby making use of ancient squatters' rights, we see the social fabric of the village come apart. The writing is excellent in the way it shows the tensions between the law and the feelings o

The Lost Delights of Hitchhiking

I saw a poster the other day advertising hitchhiking. It was in Leeds University, where I was spending a day for the Viking Society Student conference. It was the first reference I've seen to hitching in many a year. Hitching was one of the mainstays of my life for years. It got me around the UK, and to a lesser extent, France. It enabled me to have a lifestyle split between three cities for a few years. One of my best hitches was from Sheffield in Yorkshire to Redruth in Cornwall in seven hours. Admittedly, I didn't do that all on my own; my companion was my girlfriend, who sported beautiful, long red hair. Sometimes, people went out of their way to give me a better lift, miles out of their way. Other times, magic happened. The first time I went to Oxford was on impulse, to visit a friend who'd recently moved there, whose address I didn't even possess, though I did know the name of the road. The final lift actually dropped me off on that road. I knocked on a door o

Surely Tesco is not like a tumour?

At various times in my life, I have taught biology. This is something of how growth happens: Cells grow and reproduce to form tissues. Then, surrounded by other cells, they stop reproducing. This is called contact inhibition. They have reproduced exactly as much as is necessary for the health of the overall body. Unless they're cancer cells. The latter have no contact inhibition, and so they go on a reproductive spree which may kill the organism. Briefly, let us pursue an analogy. A large group of people - say a 'society' or a 'nation' is the body. A company is a cell or group of cells. Wouldn't it be good if companies had contact inhibition, if they stopped growing when they'd reached optimum size for the overall system? Maybe some do. Some certainly don't. One that comes to mind is the gigantic UK grocery chain Tesco. In most parts of this country, unless you live at the bottom of a deep valley you can probably look out of your window right now and see

William S. Burroughs exhibition: All out of time and into space.

William S. Burroughs exhibition: All out of time and into space. At the October Gallery, Bloomsbury. The first time I spoke with William Burroughs was in 1994, the year after he'd announced his IOT membership. It was a phone introduction. Bob Williams called him and handed me to the phone. At some point, I asked him what he was working on. 'Painting,' he said. 'I paint with a toilet plunger. It saves time.' Two years later, I met William Burroughs, at his home in Lawrence, Kansas. By then, Bob Williams had gone into space for the last time, and his widow Stephanie and their close friend Douglas took me there. So I finally got to see the paintings. Toilet plungers was only one part of it; he was painting and collaging with a vast range of objects. He was seeking allies, life-forms, in the aleatoric bumps and pits and scrolls of squashed ink, gunshot holes, burn marks. He found them; his artwork is alive with non-human sentiences, some of

Review of IMAGINAL REALITY by Aaron B. Daniels

IMAGINAL REALITY (Volume One: Journey to the Voids. Volume Two: Voidcraft) by Aaron B. Daniels, Ph.D. with Laura M. Daniels, M.Ac. I have taken my time to review this book because it has given me so much to think about. Jaded habitué of the magical scene that I am, I am seldom impressed by anything I read these days, but this did it. There are three main ideas that stand out for me: The Eight Voids that surround our experience of selfhood; the centrality of the structure of moment to moment experience - the 'structure of the now'; and the idea that magic is something much more universal than magicians normally give it credit for. The declared philosophical attitude of the book is described as existentialist, nihilist and mystical. This sounds like a funny mixture, but it works very well in discussing the limits of what we actually know. The starting point of what we know is what the author refers to as the 

Review of Adrift on the Sea of Rains, by Ian Sales

Adrift in the Sea of Rains, by Ian Sales This is a work of 'hard SF', which is to say there are no thoroughly unscientific bases to the weirdness in it. No monsters, no inexplicable events, no disorientating postmodern flourishes. Hard SF tends to be a subgenre which defines itself by what it isn't. I grew up reading that sort of thing, but also developed a taste for the fantastic and whimsical. So I may not even have stumbled across this extraordinary novelette but for the fact I know the author: Mr Sales was a founder member of the Sheffield SF and Fantasy Writers' Group, which I still go along to. The story is set in a parallel reality and concerns a small group of astronauts and scientists stranded in a tiny lunar base when the earth is wrecked by nuclear war. The hope they increasingly seldom dare admit to is that they will be able to shift into another parallel universe in which the earth is still alive. The tale opens amidst their a

Review of Book of Baphomet

The Book of Baphomet by Nikki Wyrd and Julian Vayne If you've heard this particular god-name, then you've very likely asked: What is Baphomet? Which of the many answers to that question you find the most appealing may depend on whether you identify as a Thelemite, a Satanist, a Chaos Magician. Or even a Templar.  This book seems to have set out to cover all those bases, and a few you're unlikely to have thought of. And it does a very good job indeed. The Book of Baphomet erupts with ideas and this review would become much too long if I mentioned a third of them, but the biggest theme is perhaps: Considerations of human life on the biggest scale and the smallest. The big questions: Nature. Wilderness. Responsibility. The nature of our identification with affinity groups and the question of what community means, within our species and including others. Rich ideas of blending 'nature' with human technology such as control sys